But the teachings of J.S. Barkley are not so easily forsaken – there are those who would see the sinners dead, and they are slowly closing in.
Anyone remotely familiar with A Fantastical Librarian will be aware of my general aversion to zombies. They are the one monster that will give me nightmares every single time and an author had better disguise them or reinterpret them in a very interesting way for me to chance my already limited amount of sleeping time I have (hello 2yo night crawler) to nightmares. Yet when I read the synopsis for Towsey’s debut Your Brother’s Blood last year I was intrigued by it and when I read it, he certainly blew any fear of nightmares out of the water. Towsey managed to make his Walkin’ different interesting enough that I rather forgot they were essentially zombies and just lost myself in the story. Thus I was really looking forward to reading the book’s sequel Your Servants and Your People and I wasn’t disappointed. Your Servants and Your People is a different beast than Your Brother’s Blood, but it is just as good.
What makes the book so different? First of all, there is a seven year gap between the narratives of the books, which means that the McDermotts are all very different people from those we left at the end of Your Brother’s Blood. The story is also set in a completely different part of the country, away from Barkley, so the tension derived from the religious aspect and danger to Thomas has lessened, even if he is still persecuted by society in general. Lastly, there is an additional storyline with a viewpoint separate from that of the McDermotts centred on a group of soldiers sent to garrison a frontier fort. All of this results in a book set in a world that feels familiar, but feels quite different from that in the previous book.
The themes Towsey tackles in Your Servants and Your People have shifted as well. Where the first novel is mostly about Thomas getting to grips with his transformation to a Walkin’, getting back to his family, and getting them safe out of Barkley, this second outing focusses more on the McDermotts as a family and how they cope with Thomas’ situation. The answer is without spoiling anything: not well. The family has moved around quite a bit and Mary has changed from a loving, bright young girl into a disillusioned and hard young woman. Thomas desperately wants to give his wife and daughter a safe home and Sarah just wants her family together and happy. Mary wants out of the situation, but where she does want to be isn’t really clear either to the reader or Mary herself. Yet once they arrive at Fort Wilson and Thomas starts building their home, it seems as if things might be looking up, until a young man turns up who helps him in exchange for shelter and food. On the one hand, Callum seems a wonderful addition to the family, on the other there is just something off about him. His presence and the situation in general evoked a pervasive sense of dread, especially given his and Mary’s interactions. I wanted Thomas, Sarah, and Mary to have a happy ever after, yet it’s clear this just isn’t in the cards and I kept waiting for the axe to drop.
Although the McDermott arc was interesting and Towsey did a great job with their development, my favourite storyline and character in this book was Bryn. He’s a sensitive soul and has a good heart. Having escaped into the army to create a better life for himself and his sweetheart, he just wants to make lieutenant and take good care of his men and emulate his own lieutenant. It’s through his viewpoint that we learn what life must have been like for Thomas before he was killed. We discover what is it like to be a soldier and live with the constant fear of becoming Walkin’ yourself. We see very different reactions to the Walkin’, the war, and life from all of Bryn’s companions. Silas and John are vile, while Travis and the lieutenant are seemingly decent men. The only one that seems straightforwardly kind is George. There is an interesting dynamic in the group, one put under pressure by the mystery they uncover when they occupy the fort and the events that follow. At the end of the book this arc left me with one big question: what is Bryn’s function in the rest of the trilogy? As interesting as his storyline is, what is its function in a larger scope? I look forward to finding out where Towsey is taking him in the next book.
Both the situation in the fort and some of the happenings in the McDermott storyline allow the reader to see the differing societal reactions to the Walkin’; from shoot on sight – as you shall not suffer the wicked to live – to treating them as second class citizens. This Othering of a growing minority references both historical and contemporary treatment of real-world minorities. In addition to this commentary, Towsey once again considers religion as well, because you can take people out of Barkley, you can’t take Barkley out its people. Where Sarah and Thomas still cling to their religion and find comfort in prayer and the Good Book, Mary has turned away from their faith. The tension this creates not just between Mary and her parents – who respect their daughter’s choice, but also wish she’d return to the faith – but within Mary’s inner emotional life as well, is interesting and lent further depth to an already hard situation.
With Your Servants and Your People Towsey shows us more of his world and its scope, yet he also leaves plenty of questions to be answered in the last volume, Your Resting Place, and I look forward to discovering where Towsey is heading with the McDermotts. Your Servants and Your People was just as gripping and compelling as Your Brother’s Blood even if it was less action-driven and had more of a horror vibe due to the pervasive dread and threat. Despite the seven-year jump ahead and different setting, the book doesn’t really standalone. One could pick up the series here, but the reader would lose much of the story’s depth and intricacies. If you haven’t yet read Your Brother’s Blood, I highly recommend you pick up both of these books and give them a read, because they’re very much worth your time.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.